February 22 2014 10:03AM
I played with many Russians in my time in professional hockey. I was always amazed by their skill and skating ability. After being traded to the Vancouver Canucks, during my first practice I was taught a harsh lesson on Russian ability by Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny.
Mike Keenan had us do a one versus one drill in a morning skate of my first day as a Canuck. Looking back I am pretty sure he did it because of me and then lined up both Bure and Mogilny to go against me to see what I was made of.
It turned out he should have maybe sent someone else!
The first guy to come at me was Mogilny. He literally turned me inside out -- twice! Not the perfect start to my career as a Canuck. I go back in line and decide I will do better next time.
My turn again, Bure is flying up the ice at me. He sailed by me like I was standing still! Oh boy. Ugly.
I skate into the corner, more then a little upset. The assistant coach pulls me aside and says “Don’t worry kid, they do that to everyone!”
Some of the best players I played against were Russians as well. Pavel Datsyuk and Igor Larionov were two of the greatest. They were incredible. They made everything look so easy.
There was a lot of pressure on this group of Russian hockey players at the Olympics. Expectations for gold came from the highest levels. I never saw this as a reality for this group of players and coaches. There were way to many agendas for a team to sort out in a short tourney like the Olympics.
The Russians were built to win games by outscoring the opponent. I know that is the objective of the game but it can’t be your only way to win games. It is a not a recipe for success.
The successful teams in this tourney all played very tight defence. They make it so hard to get to the offensive zone and to the net. Look at Latvia. Basically zero offence but they hung in there fairly deep in the tourney. Defence isn’t sexy but it wins games.
All the reports out of Russia suggest that there was a split between KHL and NHL players. This is unacceptable by any standard and the difference between Russia and the winning teams. The Russians do not come together as quickly and easily as other countries. This is why they are not winning international tournaments or having success like the Swedes.
The Russians need to take a hard look at their program and teams. There is no doubt that the offensive talent is there. The high end D men are not there as much as in the past. Any successful team starts on the blue line. They need to play as a team and have the ability as a group to grind out wins.
Sweden’s top four defencemen
If you watched the Swedes beat the Finns to move on to the final you would have seen Swedish head coach Par Marts go with four defencemen often. Especially down the stretch of the game. I doubt it was the four many would have expected.
- Jonathan Ericsson - Niklas Kronwall
- Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
That meant he left players like Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the bench. Both are good players. I think Ekman-Larsson is one of the most underrated players in the game. He will be a stud for Phoenix and Sweden for years to come.
What are those two younger players missing that the four that played have? Experience, Stanley Cup victories and familiarity (each pair used was made up of teammates). This is why they play and the younger guys sit at crunch time.
Coaches want steady and predictable play from their blue liners. They don’t want surprises from back there. Team Canada has taken heat for not playing P.K. Subban. His time will come in the next Olympics but for now Mike Babcock doesn’t have the confidence in him to play a steady brand of hockey. I agree with his decision.
Going for Gold!!!
Early Sunday morning we will all have our eyes glued to the TV to watch Canada try to win gold over Sweden. Canada had really impressed me with their team play. Babcock has really got these guys dialled in to tight team style. He doesn’t care who you are, he expects you to buy into the team systems.
I think their lack of scoring can be attributed to goalies playing well. Their shot totals are more then fine and they are crashing the net. At some point they need to get some lucky bounces. Lets hope it is Sunday.
This Swedish team is no tap in. They are playing with lots of confidence. I really think the key to the game is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. I can see he is in a zone. Very focused.
To beat him Team Canada needs to get heavy traffic to the net. I don’t think that a couple of bumps by accident into the King would hurt at all. He does have a temper that shows itself when he gets really crowded.
If Canada loses this game it will be because of the play of King Henrik. Canada cannot let him be the difference.